Momentum: Why we’re launching our first ever open primary

Callum Bell

Democracy is essential to creating the vibrant and participatory culture that the left needs to win. Yet our movement has often been too top-down and the grassroots not always in the driving seat. Now it’s time to take our responsibility as democrats seriously. The only way we can win in the party and in the country is with an open, transparent and democratic mass movement, and a grassroots that is empowered to make decisions at every turn.

Open primaries are the best way of unearthing the talent within our movement. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the best example of this. She was able to challenge one of the most powerful Democrats in the US, defeat him with a strong grassroots campaign, and now has played a pivotal role in changing the US political landscape for good. Momentum launching primaries marks the end of selections based on backroom deals and who knows who, and gives all outstanding candidates the opportunity to take on a leading role in our movement in years to come.

If we are to find our own Ocasio-Cortezes, we need to make sure we give every opportunity to a wide range of candidates to make their case. Democracy is the best route to finding the socialist leaders of tomorrow, whether they become MPs like Nadia Whittome and Zarah Sultana, trade unionists organising workers in un-unionised workplaces, or councillors fighting to defend schools and youth centres.

After not being able to run open selections for the Labour national executive committee (NEC) elections due to the time constraints imposed by the Labour right, I’m really excited that Momentum is today launching its first ever open primary, which will be for the Young Labour Committee elections in November.

Young Labour is the future of our party, and under Jeremy Corbyn it reached an impressive 100,000 members. During the expectation-defying 2017 election, many local Young Labour groups and university clubs led impressive canvassing efforts, and since then young members have been at the forefront of campaigns such as Labour for a Green New Deal and other important socialist policy initiatives. They have brought much needed vitality to our party.

We can’t afford to let that energy dissipate now. Voices of young people need to be heard, both in our party and outside of it. School students and other young people have been leading the climate movement, and a green agenda needs to be at the core of our economic vision. Housing is an essential issue for younger generations – we need a Young Labour that can support renters organising and campaigning for affordable housing. And young people are disproportionately affected by low pay and precarious contracts. In the era of coronavirus, unionising young workers is more important than ever.

Young Labour must be a place where young activists campaigning on these issues can coalesce and bring their ideas and energy to our party. Momentum’s open primary, where young members can decide who the organisation will endorse to sit on the Young Labour committee, will be the first step in opening this process up to a wide range of participants and new leaders within the movement.

But it’s not just a question of bringing new leaders into the fold. My experience of open primaries is that they are often the best way of building unity and energising the grassroots to campaign for candidates. We want this process to kickstart a productive discussion about the future of Young Labour, and encourage participants to invest their time and energy into changing it for the better.

Young Labour has such an important role to play in the future of socialism in the UK. While the Labour Party leadership tacks to the right, potentially alienating the youth vote, Young Labour can set its own agenda. Vibrant local Young Labour groups can be at the core of providing political education, intervening in their CLPs, organising and linking up with local and national campaigns and bringing young people (such as those radicalised by Covid-19, the climate crisis and the BLM movement) into the Labour Party.

If you are under 27 and a Labour member, and have the energy and ideas to shake up Young Labour – or if you’d like a vote in deciding who we endorse – why not join Momentum? This is just the first of our open primaries, and the start of a new way of working for our movement. If you’re 27 or older, you can also join Momentum to have a say in our future open primaries – and to help build the biggest and most powerful grassroots movement for socialism this country has ever seen.

Here are the key dates:

Midday, August 21st – Deadline for candidate applications
August 25th-26th – Shortlisting
August 28th – Ballot opens
September 2nd – Ballot closes
September 27th – Labour Party nominations close
October 19th – Labour Party ballot opens
November 12th – Labour Party ballot closes

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